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Full text of "My Country And My People"

THE    CHINESE    CHARACTER               59

myself, I am inclined to think that the man who sits on a chair
that is a real chair, and sleeps on a bed that is a real bed (and
not a daytime sofa) is a happier man. The standard that
measures a man's civilization by the number of mechanical
buttons he presses in a day must, therefore, be a false standard,
and a lot of this so-called mystery of Chinese contentment is
of the Westerner's own making.

It is true, however, that Chinese people are perhaps more
contented than Western people, class for class, when living
under the same conditions. This spirit of cheerfulness and
contentment is found in both the literate and illiterate classes,
for such is the penetration of the Chinese racial tradition. It
may be seen in the gay, babbling rickshaw boy of Peking, for
ever laughing and joking all the way and ready to laugh at a
fellow-man's discomforts, or it may be seen in the panting and
perspiring sedan-chair coolies who carry you up to the top of
Kuling, or it may be seen in the boat-trackers who pull your
boat up the Szechuen rapids and who earn for their living a
bare pittance beyond two simple but hearty meals a day. A
simple but hearty meal eaten without much worry is, however,
a great deal of luck, according to the Chinese theory of
contentment, for as a Chinese scholar has put it, "a well-
filled stomach is indeed a great thing: all else is luxury of
life."1

For contentment is another of those words, like "kindliness"
and "peaceableness," which are written on red paper and
pasted on all doors on New Year's Day. It is part of the counsel
for moderation, part of that human wisdom which says,
"When good fortune comes, do not enjoy all of it," and of that
advice of a Ming scholar "to choose the lighter happiness."
Among the epigrams of Laotse which have passed into current
phraseology is the maxim that "one who is contented will not
meet with disgrace." Another form of this maxim is, "One who is
contented is always happy." In literature, it emerges as a
praise of the rural life and of the man who has few worries, a
sentiment which is found in all poems and private letters. I

1 The Chinese description of this happy state of going to bed with a filled
stomach is: "soft, well-filled, dark and sweet"—the last two adjectives
referring to sweet slumber. This expression is positively voluptuous in the
Chinese language.